I spoke in Brussels this week at the European Parliament’s End-of-Life Symposium. I delivered opening remarks for the symposium, setting the tone for the important talks and conversations that were to follow. We’re now making my prepared remarks available.
It is an honor to be here with you today.
I am glad that we are together today, because we are at a crucial and hopeful time in the life of our nations and the life of our globe.
Every generation must confront the essential mystery, the essential gift, that is human life. Indeed, we must confront this essential mystery, this essential gift, that is our life.
Are we truly unique, distinct, unrepeatable persons? Are our lives truly the priceless goods so many tell us? Or are we just another animal in the forest, whose presence here is ultimately of little account?
We are in this room, we are engaged in the lives of our nations, because we have—each of us—come to the conclusion that our lives truly matter and that this life and this world is a gift!
Of course, it’s easy to look around the world and be disheartened. But this has always been the case. What makes our civilizations truly great is what has always made civilizations great: we possess an ability to see the ultimate realities that form the foundation for so many of the everyday, the quotidian, even the banal or downright evil aspects of our time. We are, each of us, a part of great civilizations because we see the ultimate reality that, because life is a gift, because we ourselves are unique, truly distinct and unrepeatable, we therefore owe one another our love, our solidarity, and our companionship in this life.
Whatever your ultimate theological views, we know that the human person is not like any of the other animals in the forest. We are distinct in the order of this world, and part of our distinctiveness is that we are never alone.
To be human is always to be in relationship with one another. We are born into family, into community, into our national life, and into an international order.
We are connected—actions and decisions here in Europe reverberate across the Atlantic in the Americas—we shape the world through the sort of people we choose to become.
And this is surely the case on the intimate level of our families and amongst our friends. If we choose to love, to live in solidarity, to walk with one another through illness, through disability, through hardship, we become the sort of people who are capable of rising to meet challenge and overcome challenge. We become the sort of people who truly love.
We do this by remembering that love is not, ultimately, simply a feeling. Love is not a merely an emotional state, and love is not even simply a movement of the heart. No, love is a choice. Love is a continual act of the human will, and we love by willing what is good for one another.
I’m here today—we’re here today—because too many people in the world are at risk of forgetting these perhaps obvious seeming truths. Too many are at risk of thinking that “willing the good of another” might include willing another’s death by suicide, or death by euthanasia.
Every death by suicide, by euthanasia, by so-called medical aid—by whatever euphemism you might hear—these are simply deaths due to our collective indifference.
We must continually choose to be a people who remembers what true love is. We must continually choose to be a people who are brave and courageous enough and clear-headed enough to remember that what is good for us is life and life in abundance, and never premature death hastened by all those forms of hemlock in our time.
In America, we’re fighting to remain who we have always until now been—a people who do strive to truly love, and to truly will the good of one another.
Just recently, America inaugurated a new national emergency hotline for suicide prevention. Americans experiencing suicidal ideation or emotional distress can now simply dial 988 from their phones to receive life-saving assistance. In this small but important act, we choose to become a better people, a more solidaristic people.
Yet at the same time, a number of our states are rejecting the common sense value of suicide prevention and instead, tragically, engaging in suicide assistance.
We see firsthand the danger of the United States of America embracing the dehumanizing logic of treating persons as disposable or beyond hope. Since our Canadian neighbors endorsed suicide and euthanasia in 2016, more than 30,000 Canadians have been killed by physicians.
In the United States, while no federal law has been enacted on the subject, suicide assistance is now legal in 10 jurisdictions: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
Living right outside Washington, DC, working in DC, I was able to be particularly involved in the fight that ended with a tragic embrace of assisted suicide. And it was a fight.
Washington, DC was the first majority-minority jurisdiction to legalize assisted suicide, which was effective 2017. Talking with DC council members. Talking with people in their waiting rooms, on the streets, everywhere we could. We lost that fight.
It was rammed through by politicians and signed by a mayor whose own administration testified against it. But the people of Washington, DC, and especially the minority population, were vigorously opposed as they learned more about it. As they learned the ways the law could disadvantage them. As they reflected back on the civil rights era and how our nation has at times failed those who needed support the most. And they were not happy about this Washington, DC law.
So many of them were living with terminal illness, economic disadvantage, and disabilities, and they knew they would be the first to experience the adverse effects of these laws.
Thankfully, most states and most Americans continue to recognize that suicide assistance is incompatible with our constitutional and human right to life—that suicide assistance is incompatible with basic justice, with our values of due process and the equal protection of the laws.
Physicians who engage in suicide assistance are responsible for a broad desensitization and insensitivity for the plight of the struggling, the unwell, the infirm, and those at the end of their natural lives who deserve compassion and palliative care.
Suicide is never a purely personal act, because as human persons we are naturally social and communal to our core.
We oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia—all forms of indifference to the human right to life—because each of us deserves better than the indifference of suicide assistance.
Everyone deserves suicide prevention and life-affirming healthcare. Let me say that again: Everyone deserves suicide prevention—not suicide assistance—and life-affirming healthcare.
As we gather together today, let’s commit ourselves to stepping back from the brink—from looking away from the abyss of indifference at the heart of suicide and euthanasia toleration.
Ours are pluralistic nations—places where many peoples come together in the hope of becoming, in whatever way, one. In America, we speak of e pluribus unum—”out of many, one”.
But we cannot be “one” people, we cannot be “whole”, if we accept the indifference, the exclusion, and the killing that characterizes every act of suicide assistance and every act of euthanasia.
Our lives are gifts, and we are together here today because in the depths of our hearts we know we were made for relationship with one another. I hope we can use this time to commit ourselves to strengthening relationships, choosing to love, choosing to love by willing the authentic good of the other, and in time, renewing the best of each of our national traditions—to once more become peoples committed to one another, committing to one another’s thriving, and committed to one another’s mutual overcoming of every threat that would tear us apart.